Like Dylan in the Philosophy Room

Last time we visited Weber State University it was to note the existence of a forthcoming volume on The Undead and Philosophy. Now comes a more worthy venture: Bob Dylan and Philosophy. Suggested paper topics include: What It’s Like to be a Rolling Stone; Dylan’s solution to the Toxin Puzzle Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright; and The Philosophical Significance of Wiggle Wiggle.

Can I claim first dibs on Harry Potter and Philosophy, or has that already been taken? Continue reading “Like Dylan in the Philosophy Room”

Bad Writing

Let me second Chris Bertram’s recommendation of John Holbo’s posts (one two) on bad writing. Despite their brilliance, I don’t want to take up the thankless task John offers me. In part that’s because at this time of year I have quite enough thankless tasks on my plate. And in part it’s for an amusing theoretical reason.

The task, if a labour of Hercules can be called a task, John sets is to count the errors in a particularly error-ridden passage. The problem is that the number of errors a passage contains is not obviously determinate. For example, assume the passage contained the following argument.

All philosophers are positivists
So, all philosophers are bad people

At first glance it looks easy to say how many errors that contains. Two. False premise and invalid reasoning, right? But that’s not obviously charitable. It’s often wrong to regard arguments that are invalid on their face as thereby defective, for they may be enthymemes. The question then becomes what the hidden premises might be. Perhaps the following two premises are intended to be the hidden premises.

Being a positivist is a mark of bad character
Anyone who has a bad character in one respect is a bad person

Now the argument is valid, so one of the errors is gone. But now the argument contains three errors, not two, for all three premises are false. But maybe that’s uncharitable, for the hidden premise might instead have been

Being a positivist is a mark of bad character and anyone who has a bad character in one respect is a bad person

And now we’re back to two mistakes. But even that might be excessive, because maybe the hidden premise was intended to be

Either some philosophers are not positivists, or all philosophers are bad people

And now the argument is valid and only has one false premise. So it only contains one mistake. So heaven knows how many mistakes it really had.

Now for the special holiday touch. By a rather tendentious interpretation of Quine’s “No entity without identity” dogma, and the fact that mistakes in arguments do not have determinate identity conditions, I conclude there are no mistakes in arguments. And if there are no mistakes in arguments, there are no mistaken arguments.

If I was going for the post-Thanksgiving Day snark award I’d say this was the best bit of news blogger X had received all decade. But any award Brian Leiter can’t win is an award I don’t want. Continue reading “Bad Writing”

Papers Blog

Busy day on the papers blog, with new papers by Adam Elga, Cian Dorr, Henry Jackman, Michael Smith and Zenon Pylyshyn, as well as a review of the festschrift for Hugh Mellor. There aren’t many better reading days than that, even if the Cian papers are there largely because I’m too sloppy to keep up with everyone’s changing webpages.

Cian Dorr

I just noticed when writing the previous post that Cian’s homepage at Pitt includes a couple of papers I hadn’t seen online before. I think I hadn’t updated the website tracker to reflect his move. It seems reasonable to infer from the fact that the papers are by Cian that they are interesting, so if you want some holiday reading, here are the links.

Non-symmetric Relations. Forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 1, ed. Dean Zimmerman, OUP.

Merricks on the Existence of Human Organisms. Forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.


Good news! My truer paper got accepted to the special BSPC edition of Philosophical Studies.

Bad news! Because of space considerations, it has to be trimmed back to the length it was in August. The current bloated version deals with some good objections that Liz and Cian and Jonathan and, especially, Gabriel made at BSPC. Now I’ll have to trim away to get my replies to their good objections in.

Good news! The referees for the paper wrote very helpful comments on, among other things, just where the paper should be shortened, so I at least have an idea on what to do here. The value of good referees in philosophy can hardly be over-stated, and I’m always grateful for their existence. (And no, I’m not saying they were good referees just because they accepted the paper.)

Anyway, time to work on revising that paper. (And updating the CV!)